Towards a Liberation Theology - Reflections on Palestine

Developing Just Leadership

Muhammad H. al-'Asi

Jumada' al-Ula' 05, 1426 2005-06-12

Bismillah Ar-Rahmaan Ar-Raheem. Alhumdulillah. Peace and blessings on Muhammad (sallalahu alaihi wa alihi wa sallam), his Noble Companions and Family. Dear Committed brothers, dear committed sisters,

The issue of Palestine and Israel and whatever words are used begs for many approaches and there’s a lot of things, obviously, that can be said about this subject. We’re going to have to be selective in this presentation. I’ve taken the liberty to part from the written word. I’ve offered or tendered some of my thoughts on this issue to the committee but there’s obviously more than just a written word on this subject. In a sense, it’s a very sensitive subject that has to be acknowledged whatever religious persuasion you may belong to; it’s also a very delicate one, whichever political ideas you may carry. Let us assure you before we begin, and there may be some uncomfortable statements that are going to be said and they’re going to be said out of conviction and out of a heart and out of a person who has lived with this issue and almost is dying with it so bear with us in what we have to say which more-or-less is founded in the Final Testament, in the Qur’an and not in some type of off-the-cuff remarks as some people would probably hasten to conclude. (This is all in the form of an introduction), first of all, we’d like to say that Zionism is the anti-thesis of justice. If whatever religious ideology we may have or whatever ideological religion we may cling to, if in our hearts and in our minds- whether we consider ourselves Jewish or Christian or Muslim- we haven’t reached the conclusion that the state of Israel, which represents this nationalistic ideology of Zionism is not the opposite and contrary condition to justice, there’s something wrong with the way you’re thinking. There’s a flaw in your understanding of God. The atrocities, the monstrosity (and) the evil that is represented by this nation state is almost the undoing of scripture and you can come up scripture from whatever angle you choose. God’s scripture stands for justice. Many of us get involved in rituals. First of all, we’ll say it as Muslims- we don’t care if you’re Muslim; it’s not your rituals that make you a Muslim and by extension this can be said about a Christian and a Jew. The rituals that we have, (and you can be as sincere and you are required to be as sincere as you can be to these rituals, but these), are meant to qualify us to do justice on Earth. If you don’t practice, if you don’t observe (and) if you don’t understand your religious rites, your religious rituals (and) your religious ceremonies to serve the purpose of justice you’ve aborted scripture altogether. Now for those of you who didn’t understand that, God is saying

لَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا رُسُلَنَا بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ وَأَنزَلْنَا مَعَهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْمِيزَانَ

We have dispatched our emissaries, (this is in reference to Prophets and Apostles and Messengers throughout time), with clear evidence and we have bestowed upon them scripture and criteria… (Surah Al Hadid verse 25)

For what reason?

لَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا رُسُلَنَا بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ وَأَنزَلْنَا مَعَهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْمِيزَانَ لِيَقُومَ النَّاسُ بِالْقِسْطِ

… so that people- you and me and the generic human being in this world- these human societies would function in accordance with justice… (Surah Al Hadid verse 25)

That summarises scripture and Prophethood.

When you take a look at this thing called Zionist Israel, there’s nothing in it that stands for justice- nothing whatsoever! What do we do about this? We have to say and we have to in a very brotherly and honest way have to tip my hat, (if it were on my head), and we’d have to salute the Rabbis that are here with us today because they could see through the disaster that is represented by this nation-state called Israel. We have a bigger problem though and we don’t mean to take this in every other direction. We have our own Zionists- meaning those who are not Jewish by faith. Muslims (and) Christians have our own Zionists and it is because of our own Zionists, (we’re just using borrowed language, we hope you’re following and you’re not taking this in your own direction)… If we take a look at the larger picture, the reason why the nation state of Israel functions (and) continues to perpetuate its policies of injustice and oppression and mass dislocation and probably the subversion of world politics at that scale is because it has that support system within us! Muslim officials and Muslim clergymen as well as Christian officials and Christian clergymen, (we don’t mean one-hundred percent of them, we’re speaking about the majority of them), acquiesce. Open your mind (and) look at the real world- who is willing to discuss the issue of Israel in the public (and) in the media with an open mind and an open heart? It’s a hush-hush issue! Where is this? Do you find anything in scripture that says you cannot criticise something like this, (I wish we could have had some of these pictures up there to see the blood that is flowing) and to look at the statistics and the numbers? Just a few days ago, (we can’t remember whether it was The Red Cross or some other type of international organisation that said “just since the beginning of 2000, (the beginning of the second intifadha), there have been sixty-nine pregnant women who gave birth at Israeli military checkpoints.” This is justice?! This is the state that some, (here we’re speaking about Christian clergymen), Evangelicals say “this is the state that represents the Biblical reference to the land of Israel”?! This is it?! How do they understand scripture?! We don’t know?! Maybe this is one of the elements that is intended. We’re not to meet, our minds are not to meet! Jewish clergymen, Christian clergymen and Muslim clergymen can’t meet and we can’t speak about this issue. When was the last time you heard about a delegation of Muslim, Jewish and Christian clergymen going to the real field, to the Occupied Holy Lands, and then going to the refugee camps? Let them go- ten (or) twenty (or) thirty of them and say “explain this to me? Can you explain where we have any Biblical grounds or scriptural grounds for what we see here?” (Do we have) any of that? No! That’s not supposed to be. So why is there this official and religious silence when it comes to this occupation, usurpation (and) theft of the Holy Land? Why is it, (we ask you)? You (can) revert to your own inner thoughts on this. We’re not supposed to think for you, you’re supposed to think for yourself. Where did all of this come from? What are we supposed to do about this? We don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but we’ve covered some territory here (and) what do we do about this? We don’t know (and) we still need more contact, (we think). You see, we’re not speaking about Saudi Arabia, we’re not speaking about The Vatican, Canterbury or the other place. We’re speaking about the Holy Land and we’re forced to speak about it because happens to be that one area in the world where there happens to be a convergence of these three belief systems so we’re forced to look at who is in charge (or) who is ruling in that particular area of the world; but that doesn’t mean that we have to prioritise this before we clean our own homes, (meaning in other words that if I’m a Muslim and I’m as Zionist as the Jew is, of course with other words and with other traditions and with every other idiosyncrasy, that doesn’t mean that my responsibility is to go and take care of someone else’s place when my place is falling apart. To put it up-front- Muslims are responsible for de-Zionising their own internal home. We think that the Muslims in the world are in this process; with all the mistakes, with the fumbling around, with the fried hands that are in the process. If you want to say something, you can’t say Muslims are quietists about this level of events. We’re involved. We just want to see a reciprocal involvement on the basis of scripture and our relationship with God, our Maker, of our corresponding scripturalists. Cherish the day when that arrives but until then we’re going to have to work on it. How are we going to work on it as Muslims? (We know we have a time limitation here- give me a few extra minutes.)

You know, it’s wonderful to speak about peace but it is not wonderful to speak about it in the absence of justice. One concept that is systematically omitted from our religion, (we try not to use the word religion or religious but its being used and let me, for the sake of enhancing this thing without going off on tangents). Something peculiar should be observed and you should work on this and that is to re-integrate the central issue of justice into your belief system. We think this is something that begs us. Humanity goes through cycles and one of these cycles that it goes through is it begins to lose its quality of justice- and this is probably where we are. As a human society we have lost the quality of justice. There’s, (you know), World War one and two and more military powers and all of this that has contributed to where we are today and if we have a sense of where we are going we have to bring back this central concept of justice into our understanding of God, of history (and) of our own selves before it is too late. We don’t live in a vacuum. If we ourselves don’t take the initiative in bringing back justice into our lives, our lives are going to disintegrate in their own way. There are social laws that are at work and if we expose our societies to these social laws without maintaining this justice we’re not going to have social (or) human societies around anymore. Civilisations rise and they fall and don’t think just because today there is this Western civilisation that has taken grip of the world it is going to stay there when the level of justice is diminishing and almost disappearing in this world. It will not be. So what do we, as Muslims, do when it comes to this issue of Palestine? Do we speak about peace in this very rosy, very abstract (and) sometimes in a very utopic manner? Peace, peace, peace- we could speak about that night and day. We can wax eloquent about peace night and day but is that really going to bring peace? Do you just speak about it? No. The best demonstration is the Palestinians themselves. They’ve been begging the world for peace through the United Nations, through the regional organisations, bilateral relations- you name it. You know, they’ve been talking about peace (and) the more they talk about peace the less peace there is. The fact of life is that we are living in a world that recognises only war and we can’t dream war away and we can’t abstract war away. We have to deal with it. The only way you deal with a war is with a just war. This is not comfortable to say but these are the facts of life (and) they begin listening when you begin acting. We’re not saying this because this is a person here who is propagating some kind of a militant approach to the issues; this should be a conclusion by any neutral observer. Palestinians, (you know), can dream of peace! They can imagine peace, they can do everything (but) short of action there’s not going to be any peace. So what do we do? The Israeli government doesn’t want to speak to them. Some Israeli officials even refuse to recognise that they exist! “The Palestinian people don’t exist” (said) Golda Meir and the others “likened the Palestinian people to animals (who) instead of walking on four legs walk on two legs.” Others said “the Palestinians are like cockroaches; let’s smother them in a bottle to death” or something like that. How do you talk to people like that? You tell us how can you approach people like that? It only leaves one option for these oppressed people and that option is to carry arms and the citation for that is.

أُذِنَ لِلَّذِينَ يُقَاتَلُونَ بِأَنَّهُمْ ظُلِمُوا ۚ وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ نَصْرِهِمْ لَقَدِيرٌ

Permission from on high- heavenly permission, God’s permission- has been given to those who have been oppressed to fight back and indeed God is capable of providing them with victory. (Surah Al Hajj verse 39)

They don’t have to go look for it in the United Nations or in some superpower negotiation. You look for that outcome with God- that’s the only way it’s going to be done. There are other verses we can cite for you. Sometimes, (you know), some people come and say “ Muslims are trigger happy” or the famous word right now is “ Muslims are terrorists.” You’ve heard that. For those who are not familiar with the Qur’an, there is a verse in Surah Al Baqarah, the second chapter of the Qur’an, that says, (which means and this is the rough transfer of meaning into the English language)

كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْقِتَالُ

Fighting has been assigned to you… (Surah Al Baqarah verse 216)

These are God’s words; this is not something some theologian came up with (or) some militant Muslim is advocating- these are God’s words. He says

كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْقِتَالُ وَهُوَ كُرْهٌ لَّكُمْ

Fighting has been assigned to you knowing that you dislike it… (Surah Al Baqarah verse 216)

You see- compare these Qur’anic words i.e. our dislike for fighting when it is assigned to us in conditions like the ones we are speaking about and what this press is saying about us.

وَعَسَىٰ أَن تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ ۖ وَعَسَىٰ أَن تُحِبُّوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ شَرٌّ لَّكُمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

… and it may be that you dislike something and it turns out to be for your benefit and it maybe you like something and it turns out to be a disadvantage for you and Allah knows God knows but you don’t. (Surah Al Baqarah verse 216)

This describes our attitude in a nutshell. Of course, there is only limited things of what we can say of how we feel when we take up arms. It’s an assignment. We have to do it. We don’t like it but it’s something that has to be done. We are left no other choice. All other alternatives (and) all other avenues have been exhausted.

Now, the right to bear arms and the right of return, (there’s some similarity there which we’re going to have to skip over for this time).

We want to wrap up the presentation by many references to the word “love and peace and love your neighbour and the peacemakers” and these catch words or buzz words that are mentioned from time to time. How are you going to love your neighbour when your neighbour is building a sky high barrier that extends for four-hundred and some odd miles? Here you use the kilometres, some seven-hundred odd kilometres. How are you going to do that? We don’t even know who our neighbour is to love them?! This is Biblical- raising this wall in the interpretation of some people is an act that is sanctioned by the Bible?! This is “the chosen people- these Israelis”? We mean think in your mind (and) in yourselves, think for a moment- you go out (and) you’re in the military. You’re nineteen years old (or) you’re twenty-three or whatever- they’re in their twenties, most of them and then they begin to shoot at innocent people. What type of human beings are they? How can they come home to their own family and function as a father or as a husband to their own family when you just knew you plugged a few people with bullets?! Is this the definition of a chosen people? Sometimes it disturbs you- how can people combine these things in their heads and come out thinking straight?! These are supposed to be “the chosen people”?! You know- we don’t have to go through these numbers (i.e.) the numbers of refugees, (that you have just been exposed to at least a couple of times today), in 1948, 1967 and in the years since then. How many people have been killed? We don’t know- it depends on who you’re reading. The lowest number, (that we’ve come across), is forty-nine-thousand Palestinians- it doesn’t mean others who have been killed in this ongoing struggle; and on the upper side its around eighty-thousand who have been just killed just like that in cold blood. Go out there and kill them! They’re killing and maiming. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been maimed by “a chosen people.” This structural injustice has to be dismantled and we have to understand that it is located in a larger structure of injustice that also has to be dismantled and we say it, (at lease my humble self), as a Muslim, as a fellow human being, as a brother in scripture to the others who are either Christian or Jew here this afternoon. We, meaning the Muslims, are going to have to begin with our own countries and that would probably mean Makkah and Al Madinah- we’re going to have to de-Zionise those areas and when we begin there, there’s not going to be an end to it, at least to the territories that are called the Islamic Hemisphere of the world. We’re going to de-Zionise all of that and being that Zionist Israel is almost dead centre in this massive area from the Atlantic to the Pacific, its going to be de-Zionised also. That’s the only way its going to work and our Creator and our Maker, He Who provides us with the feelings and the thoughts that are proper to serve Him says

فَلَا عُدْوَانَ إِلَّا عَلَى الظَّالِمِينَ

… aggression is only due to those who are responsible for injustice. (Surah Al Baqarah verse 193)

Wa Salaamualaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakaatuh

Q: The question is for Shaykh Al Asi. You mentioned what do lots of Muslims do regarding the de-Zionising of the Muslim world. How do you rate the passive resistance in Turkey as a model for the de-Zionising of the Muslim world? Would that be a model for Palestinians and all Muslims?

Imam Al Asi: (Can you hear me? Is it working?) It’s not up to me or to any other person to begin to draw our own conclusions from what is happening in today’s world. We have a precedent in bringing about the reformulation of human society so that it is at the standard that God expects it to be at. This model that we have was demonstrated for us a-thousand-and-four-hundred years ago by Allah’s Prophet and that is we begin with Makkah. It is very important for Muslims the world over to understand that they will be involved in distracting struggles if they are not concentrated on regaining the Islamic seat of power, the Islamic Qiblah and the first Haram the same way the Prophet did. You see, when the Prophet ran into difficulties, (this may sound gibberish to some people here but just give me a minute only to sound gibberish if that’s what it is), and when the Prophet was under the tremendous pressure that he was under in the Arabian Peninsula opposed by the chieftains of Makkah (or) the people who had a lot to lose- what we call today the elites, those who are in power, those who had the finances- he could have said “there’s a large world out there; why should I limit myself to Makkah?!” He insisted until he was expelled. They were going to kill him. That night when the oligarchs of Makkah decided to kill him he was forced to leave but he insisted on that to teach us a lesson that we insist on because the other struggles,-(we can see this in front of our own eyes), the Iraqi resistance is the reaction that is commendable by the segments of it who are observing what God is telling them, not by the trouble-makers who are in it. This is a mixture of people and we have to be accurate about this and frank- give those who are doing it right their due and expose those who are doing it for whatever other agenda they have on their mind, but no one can say opposition to an occupation somehow you either have to disagree with it or you have to condemn it like people who are in the orbit of the Bush Administration from the neo-Conservatives all the way to some “Islamic” type of figures. The background model is the Prophet and the Prophet began where we should all begin; the process should begin from there and this mercy unto mankind with justice- you see, justice is the measure of our faith. If there’s no justice to offer, we prove there is no faith in us. That process begins as it begun fourteen-hundred years ago and let the rest of humanity enjoy the fruits of this justice even if we are going to have to suffer until that end it met.

Q: This is for Imam Asi. What I understand from your speech is that you asked for the militarisation. I think with the history I don’t want to speak of 1948 or 1967, I will speak about now. Since the intifadha started, (people used to say the second intifadha but I want to correct them because with the information we have the resistance started since, 1917 after the Balfour Declaration, (but this is not our subject). OK- let’s speak about the second intifadha- you can see how much the situation was similar for the Palestinians. You want to speak about Jordan who are really corrupted?! You want to speak about Egypt?! You know we are surrounded by whom. The South of Lebanon was occupied. Do you think that the Palestinians was aided to carry arms and to fight and they found nobody? Nobody helped them. You remember when they were in the Church in Bethlehem and nobody moved! What happened when the Israeli military demolished hundreds of houses on the same day in Rafah? My question is that there is something called the rights of war. I’m a lawyer and I can speak as a lawyer on that but the people have a right to resist. Do you think we will have the public in all the social forums all over the world to support the Palestinians if we carry arms?

Imam Al Asi: I think your question brings us back to the premise that I was trying to make and that is that even the Palestinian struggle, as central and as important as it is, but if we, ourselves, who belong to this Islamic history and this Islamic geography, (and all of this), don’t liberate Makkah and Al Madinah this struggle as commendable as it is, (from my point of view), is just going to go in circles. It may have some relative success at some times. I mean, the United States (and) the European Union and all of these for the first time say “we should begin to speak to Islamic representatives” meaning HAMAS or to Hizbullah or to Islamic Jihad or to Ikhwan Al Muslimeen and these others. Where did this come from? It didn’t come because these types of Muslims were saying “look- why don’t you guys talk to us? Hey- where are you? We’re here- recognise us!” It didn’t come because of that. It came because they shed blood (and because) they sacrificed. After they did that they said “now we acknowledge you. We want to speak to you. Let’s sit down.” Let’s not lose track of what’s happened. So even with this relative success no one is going to really give us our due if our Makkah, our own backyard, our origin is under occupation. When you’re referring to Egypt and Jordan and all of these, these are the mini-Zionists.

Comment: My first impression on the apparently hard saying as you mentioned “how do you love your neighbour” or “how do you love your enemy.” A great theologian of the Christian Church, Saint Gustin, said “sometimes you have to love your enemies with a benign severity in order to or when you stop someone from something wrong; so you’re actually feeling good. Loving your enemy is compatible with stopping the aggressor from injustice.” My other question- I liked his sort-of very provocative idea of de-Zionifying some parts of the world. I wonder whether he might also agree (that) we have to de-Zionify this country which is run by a war criminal- to impeach Tony Blair for war crimes.

Imam Al Asi: I think that is a perfect comment and a perfect feedback that we had there. We reverberate with every word (that) you said. You caught the drift. This is the task we have as Christian clergymen, as Jewish clergymen and as Muslim clergymen. We have to lock hands and we have to bring this world direction. If we can’t expand our relationship with God to overflow with the love and the care for humanity on the basis of justice, these crooks who are in office and in our own Temples- we have thieves in our Temples- and we have to get rid of them. We have to clean house and if you need my help to clean your house- sure. Anytime.

Q: I agree with Imam Muhammad Al Asi except on one part and that part is that recently I was in Beirut and we had a meeting with Sunni and Shi’ah groups both together. There is so much strain on the Muslim world to unite among the Sunni and the Shi’ah even we visited the Islamic centre of Shaykh Fadhlullah, (you hear Muslims speak very high of him); now I come to the point which I have to say to Imam Muhammad Al Asi very distinctly where I got this idea if Tehran attacks Israel then America should bomb Makkah and Madinah at once. This is how to protect the unity of the Muslims? They are going to destroy us. So I say, Brother Muhammad Al Asi, it was very unwise on your part to speak about the occupation of Makkah and Madinah when we are talking about the occupation of Jerusalem which is more important to us than the side issue and to break the Mushrik agenda of bombing Makkah and Madinah. That was very unwise on his part.

Imam Al Asi: I don’t think there’s going to be a down-right answer to that. If you want to discuss this issue, I’m willing to do that. The only difference between me and you is that you’re looking at this issue in the traditional way in which we’ve been bogged down with looking at the partial occupation and not looking at the larger occupation. I contend that those who are ruling in Makkah and Al Madinah feel more comfortable in Zionist company than they feel in Islamic company and they have to go.

We desire to expand and build on the designation of the day of Al Quds (designated by the late Imam Al Khomeini to be commemorated on the last Friday of Ramadhan in recognition of the suffering meted out to the Palestinians and the oppressed peoples of the world), and will be insha'Allah be running a weekly additional Khutbah on Al Quds. We pray that Allah raises the awareness of people regarding the suffering of the people of Quds and the other oppressed peoples so that the designation of the last Friday to ensconce the realities in the lives of oppressed people in our minds will culminate into a daily occurrence.

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